Granger Smith is out on tour again after suffering serious injuries from a stage fall last December, but this is more than just a comeback. During his several weeks off, the rising Texas star chose to turn his recovery into a rigorous physical, mental, and even spiritual makeover.
“I feel great, full motion, and now looking back on this time, I’m better because of [the accident] in a lot of ways,” Smith tells PEOPLE.
He estimates the tumble — off a New Jersey stage on Dec. 2 — was just a four-foot drop, but he landed on a metal barricade, breaking two ribs in his back and puncturing his lung.
“It felt like I’d knocked the wind out of me – times a hundred,” Smith, 37, recalls. He says he immediately knew he had broken ribs, but he also couldn’t imagine ending the show being “carted off.”
“So I stood up and went right back up on stage, and … I finished that song and then played two more songs,” he says. “By the last song I knew I was in trouble and I let the crowd sing a lot, but I kept thinking, ‘I can’t just leave.'”
A car trip to an emergency room soon turned into an ambulance ride to a trauma center, where a team treated Smith’s partially collapsed lung. Though his tour manager immediately texted Smith’s wife, Amber, back home in rural central Texas about the accident, Smith waited until morning – after the crisis had passed – to call her, as well as his mom.
“I downplayed it as much as I could,” he says, “but the biggest problem with that was when I got home, they saw me walk in the house, and I could barely walk … It was tough on them.”
Home within 48 hours of the accident, Smith found his only comfortable resting place was elevated on a couch; in every other way, he refused to take his situation lying down. With the remainder of his 2016 shows canceled, he set his sights on a Jan. 14 concert date in Odessa, Texas.
“From the moment I hit the couch, I had exactly six weeks to the next goal, so I thought, what would an NFL quarterback do?” he says. “I dove into literature about it and documentaries, which led me to all kinds of things.”
That meant physical therapy and breathing therapy, of course, but he didn’t stop there. He also tried cold-water therapy, a total-immersion treatment, as well as yoga and yoga breathing exercises.
“That got me into all kinds of things about finding happiness and finding peace,” he says. Soon he was incorporating 10 minutes of meditation into his daily routine and adding even more raw vegetables to an already health-conscious diet.
Recovery also meant a renewed commitment to be more present with his wife and their three children — 5-year-old London, 3-year-old Lincoln and 9-month-old River.
The singer —who hit No. 1 with “Backroad Song” and Top 10 with “If the Boot Fits“— says he got to know his infant son “better than I did the other two at their age … Once I could start carrying him again, he was on my hip constantly.”
He made a game out of helping Dad for his older children. “We called it ‘Missions,'” Smith says. “I need two socks,” he told them, “and I need them on my feet, because I couldn’t bend over.”
His cravings for self-improvement soon invaded other parts of his life. “I reorganized the entire kitchen,” he says. “That led to the living room, which led to our bedroom, which led to the laundry room, which ultimately led to the garage. We purged the house. We donated all kinds of stuff.”
And yes, he says, he’s grateful he has an indulgent wife, who is used to having her husband around only a week or so out of every month. “I was home with Amber longer than I’ve ever been since I’ve known her,” he says. “She still likes me. That’s a good sign.”
Gratitude has turned into a prevailing theme for Smith since the accident, and it’s now making its way into his new music as he works to complete his latest album. “There’re about three or four songs that go right down that path,” he says.
Smith also has taken his gratitude with him back out on the road. He confesses he moves around the stage a bit more cautiously now – “I’m a little light on the toes, which I probably will be for a long time” – and he’s taking nothing for granted.
Now before every show, he and bandmates circle up in prayer to thank God for “giving us this opportunity.”
“We’d never done it before, and everyone loves it now,” Smith says. “We enter the stage better men because of it, because we live more for the show, because all we really have is today.”
“I knew that on that couch: All I had was then,” he says. “You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. These are all things I’ve uncovered through this process.”